Facebook Page

Durango and Silverton Fall Colors Galloping Goose 5 to Durango 10/02/2021

by Chris Guenzler

Elizabeth and I awoke at the Teller House Hotel and following our morning preparations, we ate breakfast at the Lone Spur Cafe. I finished yesterday's story before we packed up, turned in the key and walked to the station in Silverton to wait to board Galloping Goose 5.

Galloping Goose 5 History

If the Rio Grande Southern Railroad had ever been a profitable endeavor with the changing economy of its fledgling days, the "Galloping Goose" might never have been "hatched" to accommodate travel by rail in the remote and isolated regions of far southwestern Colorado. The railroad was conceived and built in 1890-91 by the unflappable "Pathfinder of the San Juans", Otto Mears. It was over 160 miles long and ran from the town of Ridgway, Colorado on the north to Durango, Colorado on the south going through the towns of Telluride, Rico, Dolores and Mancos.

The RGS's early revenues came mainly from the numerous silver and gold mines near Telluride, Ophir and Rico. Hauling hundreds of tons of precious metal ores and hundreds of passengers in and out of the area made the financial condition of the railroad extraordinarily strong for its first two and one-half years! However, the repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act caused the Silver Panic of 1893, and silver prices plummeted. As a result, many silver mines were closed, people fled the area by the thousands, and the railroad slipped into its first receivership that same year.

Nevertheless, the railroad survived - just barely at times - for another 40 years hauling various kinds of freight and passengers until the stock market crash in 1929 spelled the almost certain financial failure of the railroad. However, there remained an obligation and responsibility for the railroad to provide reliable transportation for small amounts of freight, what few passengers there were, and the always-important U.S. Mail. It was time to economize! There had to be a way! There was. A new rail vehicle was born from an ingenious idea and developed into what later became widely known as the Galloping Geese.

In June 1931, the first "Motor" was built by master mechanic Jack Odenbaugh and his crew at the Southern's Ridgway shops. (Many locals referred to the RGS as simply "the Southern.") Eventually there was a fleet of seven in operation on the RGS. Motor No. 5 went into service on June 8, 1933. (The railroad officially called these vehicles Motors until 1950.)

The cost was $2,599 for No. 5, which was built with a 1928 Pierce-Arrow limousine body and running gear. It was rebuilt in 1946/47, using a World War II surplus GMC gasoline truck engine and a Wayne Corporation bus body. In 1950, the freight/mail compartment was converted to carry 20 additional passengers for sightseeing trips. With a one-man crew, and operating on gasoline rather than steam, our local Galloping Goose and its fellow goslings fit the bill for economic travel.

Even though originally built from Buicks and Pierce Arrows, the word "dignified" never seems to have been included in their description, but they were serviceable and definitely fit their purpose. Traveling through the countryside with a horn that could easily be mistaken for the call of a real goose, they were said to have "waddled" down the uneven, poorly maintained tracks of the cash-strapped Rio Grande Southern.

Throughout the Great Depression, World War II and all the way to abandonment in 1952, the RGS continued to operate steam engine powered trains on an irregular schedule as needed for hauling heavy freight and livestock shipments. However, by mid-1933, a Motor - a Galloping Goose - was used for hauling most passengers, small amounts of freight and the U.S. Mail.

From 1891 until 1933, the RGS carried passengers and mail in coaches and mail cars on regularly scheduled passenger trains. After 1933, the only choice for folks traveling through far southwestern Colorado by rail was the not-so-spacious accommodations of a waddling, honking Galloping Goose. Sometimes the ride included such entertainment as going over the top of Lizard Head Pass in a blinding blizzard in an unheated Goose or waiting somewhere along the line for floodwaters to subside, but in most cases it was "the only way to fly."

After World War II, the old muddy wagon roads slowly became the more like highways, and trucks and passenger buses began to rob the railroad of business. In 1950, the federal government did not renew the U.S. Mail contract with the RGS and financially, that was the last straw. Tourist passenger traffic during the summers of 1950 and 1951 did not generate enough revenue to keep the failing railroad alive.

In April 1952, the Interstate Commerce Commission gave permission to the Receiver in Denver to abandon the entire railroad. The first rails were pulled up in early September of 1952 and by March of 1953 the scrappers had finished their job and it was all gone! That is to say, the railroad line was gone but some of the equipment survives to this day, including Galloping Goose No. 5 nesting here in Dolores.

In 1952, members of the Dolores Rotary Club purchased Galloping Goose No. 5 from the court-appointed receiver for $250. It was then put it on display in Flanders Park in Dolores as a reminder of the town’s railroad heritage.

The Galloping Goose Historical Society of Dolores, Inc. was founded in 1987. The Society's first big project (in 1991) was to build a replica of the original RGS Dolores depot. The new building is slightly northeast of the original location. It is a Victorian structure and painted in the RGS color scheme of buff yellow with brown trim. It contains the Society's railroad museum and gift shop.

In 1997 and 1998, the Society completely restored Galloping Goose No. 5 to operating condition through the efforts of hundreds of hours of volunteer labor and thousands of dollars in donations. Goose No. 5 made its first run in almost 47 years on the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad in May 1998. Goose No. 5 is now a very popular attraction operating on the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad in June and on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad during Railfest in August.

Displays in the museum show the history of the RGS, the Galloping Goose and the town of Dolores, including a diorama of the town's railroad yard as it looked in 1946. These and other displays make a visit to Dolores’ only museum worthwhile. The museum gift shop features numerous items of railroad memorabilia as well as gift shop items relating to railroads. Many railroad books and videos are also for sale including the award-winning series People and Places of the Four Corners (Bowyer Productions). We also have the 12-volume set of "The RGS Story" by Dell McCoy and Russ Coleman (Sundance Publications).

Summer museum hours are Monday through Saturday 9 to 5, Memorial Day through Labor Day. (Limited hours May 15th through Memorial Day and Labor Day through October 15th.)

The Galloping Goose Historical Society has members from across the nation and in other countries. The Society offers annual individual memberships for $25; business memberships for $100; and lifetime memberships for $500. Monetary donations are always welcome, but also of value to the Society are donations of photos and other items or information relating to the Rio Grande Southern Railroad or to any of the Galloping Geese.

Our trip

We boarded the Goose and Elizabeth took part in the photo runby with Southern Pacific 18 while I labelled the pictures on my computer to work on the story. She returned and we had 18 people in the rear compartment and eight in the front. After Southern Pacific 18 loaded its passengers and went to the wye, we left Silverton following them out of town.

Southern Pacific 18 coming off the Silverton wye and we followed him to the Timber Trestle.

The mountains behind Silverton were covered with fall colored trees. From here the Goose ran to the south bank of the Timber Trestle and unloaded us.

Back up move with the Goose.

Back up move with the Southern Pacific 18 and train.

Photo runby one with Southern Pacific 18. After that runby, it loaded its passengers and left before the Goose did its frst photo runby of the day.

Photo runby two with Galloping Goose 5 at the Timber Trestle. We all reloaded and headed south down the railroad to Elk Park siding.

Views on the way to Elk Park siding. We unloaded the Goose then set up to catch the diesel train to Silverton.

The diesel train to Silverton passed Galloping Goose 5 at Elk Park siding. The Southern Pacific 18 left and we all walked to the Elk Park wye and made photo lines.

Fall colors on my walk to the Elk Park wye.

Photo runby 3 three with Galloping Goose 5 at the Elk Park Wye.

Galloping Goose 5 backed into the southeast leg of the wye.

Photo runby four with Southern Pacific 18.

Back up move with Southern Pacific 18.

Photo runby five with Southern Pacific 18 at the Elk Park wye.

Back up move with Southern Pacific 18.

Photo runby six with Southern Pacific 18. Galloping Goose 5 went down the wye then came up the northeast leg and stopped short of the switch.

Southern Pacific 18 backs into the southest east leg of the wye. We relocated to the side of the wye with the Goose and a view of Southern Pacific 18. Here we waited for the steam train to Silverton.

The steam train passes both Southern Pacific 18 and Galloping Goose 5 at the Elk Park Wye. We all reboarded our train and our Goose passengers would get some rare mileage.

The train backed down the wye to the end.

We then went up the southeast leg with me showing you where we came down the northest leg. The Goose took us to the Twin Bridges where we all degoosed.

Back up move with the Goose.

Back up move with Southern Pacific 18.

Photo runby seven with Southern Pacific 18 at the Twin Bridges.

Back up move with Southern Pacific 18.

Photo runby eight with Southern Pacific 18.

Photo runby nine with Galloping Goose 5 here. We all reloaded our train and headed south to the Goblin Fire location.

The Needleton Water Tower on the way there.

Back up move with Southern Pacific 18.

Photo runby ten with Southern Pacific 18 at the Goblin Fire location.

Back up move with Southern Pacific 18.

Photo runby eleven with both Southern Pacific 18 and Galloping Goose 5 at the Goblin Fire location. We reloaded both trains and went next to the Las Animas Toll Road for the next photo opportunity. The Goose dropped us off then reversed out of sight while we climbed the toll road.

Back up move with Southern Pacific 18.

Photo runby twelve with Southern Pacific 18 at the Las Animas Toll Road.

Photo Runby thirteen Galloping Goose. We all reboarded our trains and ran to Tacoma to wait for both trains from Silverton. I walked down to the grade crossing at Tacoma and was all by myself.

The diesel train to Durango went through Tacoma. Next they had something special planned for us.

Southern Pacific 18 came of the siding.

Southern Pacific 18 then backed down the mainline. We would get two photo runbys with these trains running side-by-side.

Photo runby fourteen side-by-side at Tacoma.

Back up move by both parties.

Photo Runby fifteen side-by-side. Now they would set up the crew shots.

Gallopimg Goose 5 would back into the house track and Southern Pacific 18 would then back into the siding. Then the crew would assemble.

Crew pictures at Tacoma. Now we would wait for the steam train to Durango.

The steam train at Tacoma. We all reboarded our train and we ran to Rockwood to refuel both engines. Galloping Goose 5 left first and we ran back to Durango. Elizabeth and I claimed our luggage and we walked to the car, satisifed and happy. Once again, the crew went above and beyond throughout the last two days and provided everyone with an excellent experience. A special thank you to the crew of both the steam engine and Goose, especially Russell and Alicia. Both of us enjoyed yesterday's ride behind Southern Pacific 18 and today's ride behind Galloping Goose 5, a first for Elizabeth. I drove us on Highway 160 and 84 to Chama where we checked into the Branding Iron Motel for the next two nights. E-mails and the Internet were checked then two tired people retired for the night.